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How Bad Are Second-Degree Burns?

Second-degree burns are a type of burns that are severe than the first-degree burnsSecond-degree burns are a type of burns that are severe than the first-degree burns

Second-degree burns are a type of burns that are severe than the first-degree burns (minor burns that affect the superficial layer of the skin) but milder than the third-degree burns (that cause major loss of the skin).  They affect the epidermis as well as the layer (dermis) that is deeper to the epidermis.

Also known as deep partial-thickness burn, second-degree burns take longer to heal and are serious.  Second-degree burns can be so bad that they can cause complications such as:

  • Infection of the burned area
  • Photo-sensitivity of the burnt skin (during healing)
  • Loss of normal skin color or darkening of the skin in the burnt area
  • Scarring (if not treated properly)
  • Restricted joint movements or joint contractures (due to scarring)

Complications such as joint contracture may require skin grafting to prevent joint disability.

Second-degree burns can become life-threatening if:

  • They affect larger areas of the body
  • The genitals or buttocks are involved
  • The joints are affected
  • If you suffer from diseases such as AIDS in which your immunity is weakened
  • If you have severe diabetes in which there is delayed wound healing

What can cause a second-degree burn?

A second-degree burn is commonly caused by:

  • Severe sunburn (usually in fair-skinned persons)
  • Spilling of boiling water
  • Exposure to a flash of flame (such as from ovens and stoves)
  • Grabbing a falling curling iron by the heated end
  • Chemicals such as bleaching agents and acids

What are the signs and symptoms of a second-degree burn?

A second-degree burn has two sub-types: superficial second-degree burns and deep second-degree burns. It exhibits an irregular pattern and usually looks like a wet-looking wound.

A Superficial second-degree burn is confined to the upper part of the dermis layer. Its signs and symptoms include:

  • It ranges in color from pink to bright red
  • Blisters that are variable in size which upon bursting release a watery substance
  • Extremely painful (since nerve endings are still intact)
  • A highly sensitive skin (even a breeze of air causes pain)
  • Temporary thickening of the skin with no loss in its elasticity

Signs and symptoms of deep second-degree burns include:

  • Smaller blisters
  • Slightly moist skin
  • Decreased sensation to pinprick but deep pressure sensations are retained
  • Less elastic skin

How is a second-degree burn treated?

A second-degree burn is an emergency condition and needs medical attention. While you wait for the doctor, the following steps can be initiated:

  • Allow the burn to cool by pouring cool water on it. But avoid using ice.
  • Stay hydrated (drink plenty of water or electrolyte drinks).
  • Cover the burn with a loose dressing.
  • Avoid applying butter or oil immediately on the burnt skin.

Medical treatment depends on how severe the burn is and where it is located.

  • A doctor applies an antibiotic cream after cleaning the burn wound.
  • If there are chances of the burn wound getting infected, the doctor may prescribe oral antibiotics or inject the same through your veins (intravenously).
  • The doctor will administer intravenous fluids for rapid rehydration.
  • Skin grafting may be needed in deeper second-degree burns. This means the burnt skin will be replenished with healthy skin (removed from another region of your body).

How long does it take for a second-degree burn to heal?

A second-degree burn can take anywhere between five days to three weeks to heal itself. If there are complications, recovery might take longer.

To hasten the recovery, you can try the following strategies:

  • Keep the burn clean and protected with a dressing.
  • Avoid rubbing or scratching the skin; trim your nails regularly
  • Moisturize the burnt skin after the wound heals to prevent scarring (petroleum jelly can be used twice-thrice a day).
  • Increase your protein intake.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Wear a hat and long-sleeved tops and apply a sunscreen lotion while in the sun.
  • Wear loose clothes.

Ask your doctor if you can use antibiotic creams or painkillers for faster healing of the wound and pain relief.


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